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Health

The Problem With India’s Most Wanted Covid Vaccine: There Are Plenty Of Shots, But Few Takers

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Though vaccine apprehension has been recorded in Japan and Brazil, and China’s presidential candidates have faced data-related questions, the size of the problem in India is by far the most severe.

The majority of the world is having difficulty obtaining enough vaccines to inoculate their populations. India, on the other hand, has an abundance of shots but a scarcity of people willing to take them.


Some health care and other frontline staff in India are hesitant to participate in one of the world’s largest inoculation programs because of safety concerns about a vaccine that has yet to complete phase III trials. Just about 56% of people qualified for the vaccine had stepped forward as of Monday in a country with the world’s second-worst Covid-19 outbreak.


India will fall well short of its goal of inoculating 300 million people — or roughly a quarter of the population — by July unless the inoculation rate dramatically increases. This will stymie global attempts to curb the virus and dash hopes for a rebound in an economy on track for the worst annual contraction since records began in 1952.

“At least 40% of doctors here are uncertain and prefer to wait,” said Vinod Kumar, a resident doctor at Patna’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences. “It makes little sense to conduct a vaccine trial on us because India is low on doctors and health-care workers.”

Though vaccine apprehension has been recorded in Japan and Brazil, and China’s presidential candidates have faced data-related questions, the size of the problem in India is by far the largest. The big challenges that countries like the United States and Europe are facing are mostly due to a lack of supplies rather than vaccine acceptance, and some countries are turning to New Delhi for assistance: India claims to be able to manufacture 500 million shots every month for export, and countries including the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Saudi Arabia have shown interest in purchasing them.

The AstraZeneca Plc vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India Ltd., or the Covaxin shot, developed by Bharat Biotech International Ltd., a private company based in Hyderabad, are used in India’s domestic vaccine programme. Because of the lack of complete data, India’s approval of the Bharat Biotech shot, which was produced with government-backed research groups, was met with widespread criticism from scientists.

“Many in our institute are wary of Covaxin because we don’t know how powerful it is,” said Adarsh Pratap Singh, a member of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences’ Resident Doctors Association in New Delhi. “In order to create confidence among the public, the government must release data and facts from the proceedings, as well as promote open and honest debate.”

The shot has been defended by both the business and the government. Bharat Biotech’s chairman, Krishna Ella, said earlier this month that the company conducted “100% truthful clinical trials” and had a track record of developing 16 safe and successful vaccines. In a virtual press conference on Jan. 4, he dismissed criticisms by saying, “Indian scientists want to bash on other Indian scientists.” Bharat Biotech’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the government has advised health-care staff to get vaccinated. Harsh Vardhan, India’s health minister, has issued a series of tweets urging “#CoronaWarriors” to get the vaccine, despite rumours that it could cause infertility. A spokesperson for the federal health ministry was not immediately available for comment.

“Vaccine hesitancy among health workers should end — I am pleading on behalf of the government, please follow it because no one knows how this pandemic will play out in the future,” V. K. Paul, a member of the planning body Niti Aayog, said, adding that he had taken the Covaxin shot and had experienced no side effects.

He said, “These two vaccines are safe.” “We have a mechanism in place to track it, and if there is an odd signal, it will be handled appropriately.”

Preeti Sudan, a former secretary at the federal ministry of health and family welfare, said that initial anxiety and doubt was natural at the start of any vaccine rollout. After launching a huge campaign involving children, mothers, and opinion leaders to help dispel vaccine concerns, India was successful in its polio immunisation programme, she noted.

Vaccination Rates Are Low
India had distributed approximately 2 million shots throughout the country as of Monday. On Jan. 21, about 75 percent of enrolled citizens in Madhya Pradesh, central India’s largest state, showed up for vaccination, while the rate in Bihar was much lower at 51.6 percent two days later. According to state government numbers, about 55 percent of those qualified in Rajasthan and 54 percent in Tamil Nadu were vaccinated on Jan. 19.


Although both vaccines are causing concern, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin is causing the most concern. According to the results, only 23.5 percent of those assigned Covaxin received the shots on Jan. 19 in Tamil Nadu, compared to 56 percent for the Serum Institute’s Covishield.

Before getting vaccinated with Bharat Biotech’s shot, Nirmalya Mohapatra, a doctor at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi, plans to “wait and watch” for more information. If he had to choose now, he would choose Covishield because its effectiveness evidence has been peer-reviewed by prestigious medical journals.

“Covaxin may be a safer vaccine in the future,” said Mohapatra, who is also vice president of the hospital’s resident doctors’ association. “However, for the time being, there is some trepidation due to the lack of a full trial.”


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